Randy “Biscuit” Turner Information

Biscuit's Last Show in Houston, 2005.

Biscuit's Last Show in Houston, 2005.

Beat Heart Beat: A Look at the Art of Randy “Biscuit” Turner

(a different version/remix of this ran in a 2007 issue of Maximum Rock’n’Roll)

No one knows where you come from or knows your name, so you decide to step into the limelight and shine like a berserk disco ball. Suddenly, like Benjamin Franklin’s press on fire, the world becomes inundated with your blitzkrieg media rampage of flyers and poster art. I do these missives to make your beanie propeller spin in no wind, laugh energy being used like a solar panel to power the absurd! I wish to see your eyes twirl like kaleidoscopic pinwheels like those wagon wheels on TV that spin backwards. You catch more flies with a cat turd than you do with a rose.

-Randy “Biscuit” Turner

Buoyant and bona fide maverick Randy “Biscuit” Turner was a gay, Texas-fried singer, self-taught artist, actor, and prop decorator whose life even inspired Mayor Will Wynne of Austin to declare October 8th in honor of the man that writer Jeff Derringer has dubbed “the original poster child for the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird.’”  Turner’s “career,” often overlooked outside of the Lone Star state, spanned the era of cosmic cowboy mid-1970’s Austin, which he loathed, favoring hard psyche rock and funk, and the burgeoning new music scene of the late 1970s to the 2000s, when the new music scene splintered into factions ranging from cowpunk and hardcore to suave indie rock and rootsy traditionalism. Along the way, he took cues from former volatile art punks like X from Los Angeles, various avant-garde art movements that dared to ruin conventions and norms, and the keen mishmash style of local poster makers. In doing so, he forged a genuine, homegrown East Texas surrealism that spoke volumes about being a true outsider — a maker of so-called marginal art who never fit the frustrating clichés that tend to brand homosexuality, punk rock, and the Lone Star state.

2005 flyer by Biscuit

2005 flyer by Biscuit

To be sure, Biscuit churned out hundreds of fliers for his bands, including the Big Boys, Cargo Cult, Swine King, and the Texas Biscuit Bombs, like he was throwing candy-coated 8.5 x 11 dreams in the wind, readymade to get caught on flypaper the color of rainbow Lifesavers. His work ethic was borderline obsessive-compulsive too. On any given night, he could be found straddling humming Xerox machines down the street from his humble home, or working on collages in his squeaky clean kitchen counter with oddball bits of toys, sparkle, glue, and scissors until dusk would blink over his blue bottle tree in the side yard and the Vespa leaning lazily out back. His works on paper, which reflect a strong portion of his collection, melded raw, cartoonish, child-like naiveté (just check out the poodle-fucking Big Boys poster) with an acute eye for 1970’s Parliament/Funkadelic records (bold splashes of color, organic amateurish lines, loose handwritten text), edge culture-infused skate art trends (turning rebel sports into rebel aesthetics), and slash and burn punk rock bravado that turned disposable everyday visuals – magazine layouts, postcards, and travel images — into bursting bricolage that freeze framed pop culture, infusing it at times with a kind of brightness that mirrored the fuzzy glow of highlighter pens.

Biscuit cover for Left of the Dial, 2004.

Biscuit cover for Left of the Dial, 2004.

Until the moment he died, he was introducing his newfangled “Battleship Texas” skateboard to Thrasher (the Big Boys were the first punk band to have an official skateboard created for them, by local Dallas maker Zorlac) and yearning to be featured in Juxtapoz. Until his death, he was freelancing for free, literally, creating cut and paste posters for bands he never even met, sending them works by snail mail, being a Luddite of sorts. Unlike the morbid decay and apocalypse of illustrators like Pushead, the dark humor and nihilism of Raymond Pettibon, or the iconic leather’n’chain skull figures of Shawn Kerri, Turner’s fliers evoke bombastic, feverish, squirmy, and irreverent Do-It-Yourself qualities, even if it’s scrambled or imperfect. That was his vision of punk, for he did not revel in the stereotyped gory underbelly or compressed narratives of alienation.

I have always found Biscuit’s fliers to be like an event unfolding in front of a viewer’s eyes. They nurse a kinetic spirit, as if they are a referendum on having fun. Like traditional handmade “instant art,” they mimic the notion of being spontaneous, urgent, and primitive on one hand, and zealously detailed, controlled, and committed to aesthetic on the other. Biscuit reminded Artcore fanzine that, “Flyer art and posters are now a big musical business. I enjoy seeing wonderful offset press production runs, but I think I enjoy homemade, Do-It-Yourself at a copy center better. So much of the new posters all look the same to me. Boring. I’m not saying mine’s any better, I just wish I saw more of what I enjoy!” I agree with Biscuit’s notion that so-called crudeness is ideal, for it represents the human touch that evokes a subconscious nod to art history (from Euro-Dada to puncturing Pop to supermarket comics of all stripes), the lurid underground flavor and ethos of R. Crumb, Rat Fink, and others, and the cheap and accessible copy machine wit and rebellion of off-the-cuff punk xerography. All these elements still retains potency in an era when flier art has become increasingly mechanized, watered-down, homogenized, neutered, and diluted. The Internet social sites teeming with small Adobe Illustrator manufactured virtual flyers just can’t compete with markers and pens anymore than they can with brushstrokes and torn and melded paper collages.

bigboysxerox

In his last interview, he described his early childhood experience with art to the Austin Chronicle: “I remember my third-grade art teacher looked me right in the eye and told me I had promise as an artist. I guess even at that time I saw things a little different than everyone else. Then in sixth grade I had a wonderful art teacher who took me under her wing and encouraged the heck out of me. So, believe it or not, while growing up in a little, 4,000-person town I had some incredible encouragement by artistic adults who were trapped in that ugly little nightmare of a school system, but were very, very good at what they did.” Exene Cervenka, singer of the infamous L.A. band X, was a longtime friend who often stopped by his house on tour and would join Randy in scavenger hunts at the disheveled, humidity-caked, last-call Goodwill thrift store near Austin’s airport, where Randy would toss piles of dirty, banged-up dolls and Gatorade colored muumuus into his plastic cart. She referred to Biscuit’s house as the best gallery in Austin. Yet, due to plain, old-fashioned modesty, Biscuit always made sure that people understood that he didn’t make art in a cultural vacuum, for he revered local poster artists like Guy Juke, Kerry Awn, Steve Marsh, and Gilbert Shelton. I recall the two of us, for the sake of preservation, painstakingly taking time to copy other artists’ gig fliers stacked in his side room boxes.

Biscuit lived in a house literally stuffed with assemblage pieces: eye-gobbling, wonky-colored, silly, chaotic, and poetic plastic-tassel art that really defines his kinesthetic genius: until his last pain-wracked days, he was a computer shunning, mostly self-taught “whacky” art rambler who believed in the poetry of human goofiness, or the suprise intelligence buried in the mess heap of pop detritus. Like an outsider artist edging towards a market, his last show was supposed to be in the side-room of a movie rental shop, above second-hand furniture. With an ironic jab, he always joked about the art education of one of the other Big Boys. At the time I met him, he had only sold four pieces, and if I remember correctly, he ended up getting most of those pieces back. The week of his death, he was featured on the front cover of the Austin Chronicle. In fact, it was left on his front walk, just yards from his body, which lied indoors for four days. The reporter, who had worked on the article for weeks, finally discovered an open door and alerted authorities. After his death, a gallery auction of Biscuit’s work, including many that once decorated the walls of his house, netted over $10,000 in sales (the seminal Texas indie film director Richard Linklater supposedly purchased ten), which promptly went to his mother, who he deeply loved without question. He also had a dizzying collection of black panther TV lights, Japanese toy robots, miniature metal airplanes, boxes of posters ranging from the 1970’s concert hall Armadillo World Headquarters to Emos, and other intense pop culture ephemera (including, surprisingly, an original Big Boys reel-to-reel studio master) that he hoarded from flea markets and discount stores over the years. It was a kitsch version of heaven, and he was the master of ceremonies, the curator of curiosity.

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